Human Rights for Children

Cartooon of UN Committee

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The Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) is a United Nations treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 20, 1989. This Convention promotes the best interest of children around the world and recognizes the rights of children with regards to their development, protection and participation in social life. In 2016, the treaty has been approved and ratified by all countries but the United States. While President Clinton and Obama encouraged the ratification, there continues to be much opposition in the Senate.

Even though American domestic laws would seem to be generally compatible with the treaty, many opponents are concerned that ratifying this treaty would undermine American sovereignty. They also fear that recognizing such rights would put the government in a position that would force them to pay for programs guaranteeing these rights. In addition, parental rights rights organizations believe the treaty would interfere with their authority, particularly relating to religious and sex education matters.

Nonetheless, the ratification of this treaty is fundamental for the United States as many American children are being denied their basic human rights. This is particularly relevant for children, especially of color and with cognitive disabilities, who find themselves confronted with the criminal justice system early on. In fact, about 70,000 children are detained without necessarily committing a serious offense in the U.S.

Children as young as six years old have been removed from the classroom in handcuffs for throwing temper tantrums. Others have been arrested for engaging in a tug-of-war with a teacher or doodling on a desk.

The Juvenile Justice system, depending on the jurisdiction, is not accomplishing its rehabilitative goals. Children are often being treated just like adults. Many are not receiving the zealous representation they deserve and are not informed on their rights. Even though the term best interest is recognized in family law jurisdiction, it is not being always applied in the juvenile system. Furthermore, the U.S. is one of the few countries that sentences children to life in prison without the possibility of parole, which is in fact prohibited in the CRC.

While in recent years the U.S. Supreme Court has limited the application of this life and death sentence to children, around 2,500 people are currently serving this sentence for crimes they were involved in years ago as children.

Obama’s administration has yet to push for more drastic reforms for juveniles, even though there are current debates about striking this sentence. Nonetheless, the juvenile justice system could benefit from adopting human rights ideals, as the whole criminal justice system for that matter. A child’s human rights should be considered as one of most important causes for a society. By failing to implement a human rights framework to address children’s rights, we our failing our children as well as their future.

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